How Long Can Ice Cream Sit Out? [Serving & Storing Suggestions]

Ice cream is a delicious treat that can be a little temperamental. It has to be frozen, of course, but soft enough to scoop.

You have to find the balance of soft enough to scoop, but not thawed so much that ice cream melts completely. 

While ice cream can sit out at room temperature for up to 1 hour (or up to 2 hours at 40 degrees) it will melt in 15 to 20 minutes. If ice cream melts completely it is best practice to discard it. Due to the high amounts of dairy in ice cream, harmful bacteria can grow quickly at room temperature leading to illness.  

Needless to say that for the best results, it needs to stay in the freezer up until you are ready to serve it and then replace it quickly when you finish serving.

Continue reading for details and suggestions about serving ice cream, ways to keep ice cream out of the freezer longer, how long ice cream is good in the freezer, and how other ice cream products should be stored and served.

spoiled ice cream

Storing Ice Cream At Room Temperature

The length of time you can keep ice cream out of the freezer to serve it varies depending on the ingredients in the ice cream and the ambient temperature.

It will be soft enough to scoop but still have enough ice crystals to hold it together.

On the other hand, if you have ice cream at the park on a 90-degree Fahrenheit day, your ice cream will melt significantly faster.

If you accidentally leave your ice cream out and it melts completely, you should throw it away.

At temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, harmful bacteria that cause illness can grow quickly in food, especially in dairy products.

Furthermore, you shouldn’t refreeze melted ice cream. The texture and flavor will have deteriorated in the melting process, and freezing does not kill the bacteria.

Naturally, if you have small containers of ice cream, like single-serve containers, popsicles, or wrapped cones, they will melt faster than a half-gallon or gallon container. You should serve these products directly from the freezer so they don’t melt.

melted ice cream

Serving Ice Cream Outdoors From A Cooler

Serving ice cream outdoors can be problematic because the ice cream will melt quickly when the temperature is hot.

One way to successfully serve ice cream at a park or cookout is to keep it in an ice-filled cooler and only open the cooler when absolutely necessary.

Nestle the containers of ice cream down into the ice so that you don’t have to take them out to scoop the ice cream.  The quality of your cooler will have a lot to do with how long the ice cream will stay frozen. You could expect 2-4 hours of frozen time in an average cooler full of ice.

Adding rock salt to the ice will also help keep the ice cream colder. A high-end cooler, like a Yeti, will keep the ice cream frozen longer.

Another option is to keep the ice cream on dry ice. Dry ice is so cold that the ice cream will be impossible to scoop.

You should wrap the tubs of ice cream in towels to protect it from the dry ice and keep it from freezing quite so much.

If you choose this option, you should wear gloves when you get the ice cream in and out of the cooler to protect your skin from the dry ice. The ice cream will stay frozen as long as there is dry ice in the cooler. 

ice cream in a cooler

Serving An Ice Cream Buffet

Perhaps you want to have an ice cream social, and you need a good way to serve ice cream for a prolonged period of time.

If you don’t have a tabletop freezer, you can put the ice cream in tubs of ice with rock salt added to stay cold throughout the serving time.

Commercially made ice creams that are frozen solid and are made with stabilizers will last longer at an ice cream buffet than homemade soft ice creams.

If you want to serve homemade ice cream at a social, be sure to keep the canisters completely embedded in ice.

Another option is to place your homemade ice cream in the deep freeze before serving.

This will give your homemade ice cream a little longer stability at a party.

Commercially made ice creams are made to be kept at a colder temperature, so they tend to last longer in a deep freeze than homemade ice cream does.

It is also good to have only one person serve the ice cream to reduce the likelihood of added bacterial contamination as the ice cream melts.

Adding rock salt to the ice surrounding the ice cream will lower the temperature of the ice, keeping the ice cream colder longer.

Ice Cream

Shelf Life Of Ice Cream

As long as you keep ice cream in the freezer at 0 degrees, unopened containers of ice cream will be good for 8 months to a year.

An opened container of ice cream may be good for that length of time. You can tell if ice cream has gone bad if it has developed a layer of ice crystals on the surface, no longer has a creamy texture, or has a bad smell or taste.

Ice Cream In The Refrigerator

You shouldn’t store ice cream in the refrigerator long-term, but it would slow down the melting process if you serve ice cream for an hour.

You should then return the ice to the freezer for long-term storage. Ice cream will melt eventually in the refrigerator and should be discarded at that point.

Ice Cream In The Car

On a warm or hot day, ice cream will melt quickly in the car. You can slow the melting by wrapping it in foil and then towels for a short trip.

For a longer trip, over half an hour, take a cooler and put the ice cream in the cooler with a bag of ice.

If you need the ice cream to stay frozen for more than 4-6 hours, invest in a high-end cooler, like a Yeti.

You could keep ice cream for 3-4 days in a Yeti cooler with dry ice if you didn’t open it.

Non-Dairy Ice Cream 

Non-Dairy ice creams, whether made with coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk, or cashew milk, should be kept frozen just like milk-based ice creams.

Many of these products like Ben and Jerry’s and NadaMoo are made with all-natural, non-GMO ingredients.

Although they do not have dairy, they are still perishable, and therefore should only be out long enough to serve. 

Serving And Storing Mochi Ice Cream

Mochi ice cream is little bites of ice cream that are wrapped in soft rice dough. Each little bite of mochi is a complete mixture of fluffy, delicious creaminess.

Mochi will melt and become sticky quickly, so only remove each little ball from the freezer 1-2 minutes before serving

Do not try to refreeze mochi because the texture and flavor will degrade.

Mochi Ice Cream

Serving And Storing Ice Cream Cakes

We love to find any possible way to eat dessert, it seems, and ice cream cakes are delightful.

They are a little tricky to serve since you need the cake to be soft enough to cut and serve but still stay frozen. 

For the best result, let the ice cream cake sit out for no longer than 10 minutes before serving.

Then, immediately return the cake to the freezer. Otherwise, you will have only a melted, messy puddle instead of a cake.

Once you have sliced an ice cream cake, you can wrap the remaining portion in plastic wrap before returning it to the freezer to help prevent freezer burn and preserve the freshness for a longer time.

Storing And Serving Popsicles And Other Frozen Treats

Ice cream sandwiches, fudgesicles, bomb pops, and creamsicles remind us of sweet summer afternoons. How long do they last out of the freezer, though? Only a few minutes.

These smaller frozen treats should only be taken out of the freezer when you are ready to serve them and return the leftovers immediately.


Storing Homemade Soft Ice Cream

When you make your ice cream in an ice cream freezer at home, you will notice it is more like soft-serve than scoopable ice cream.

When you make the ice cream, you surround the canister with ice and rock salt to lower the temperature and freeze the ice cream.

You can keep the ice cream cold for serving it by continuing to add ice and salt around the canister and then wrapping it with towels or a blanket to keep the cold in.

Homemade ice cream melts very quickly, so keep it in the ice bucket even while you are serving it.

If you store homemade ice cream in your deep freeze, it will have a different texture than when you made it, although the flavor will still be good. 

Be sure to store your homemade ice cream in an airtight container for the best result.

Another option to make the ice cream easy to scoop is to line a loaf pan with parchment paper, add in your ice cream, and press plastic wrap into the top of the ice cream to protect it from the air.

Then wrap the whole thing, pan and all, in several layers of plastic wrap or foil. Store your ice cream at the back of the freezer where it is coldest.

Final Thoughts

Ice cream is a sweet, creamy treat that is meant to be enjoyed frozen. You can set it out for a few minutes to soften enough to make scooping easy, but then you should return it to the freezer.

If your ice cream melts completely, you should discard it rather than try to refreeze it due to the possibility of bacterial growth. 

With a little pre-planning, you can take ice cream to a cookout in a cooler or serve it in buckets of ice at an ice cream social.

Some companies even ship ice cream to your home with dry ice! If you use dry ice, be careful handling it. Wear gloves and use it in a well-ventilated space.

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